Books I Read In 2016

In 2015, I made a decision to change the direction of my life and to get into technology.

In 2016, I followed through with that decision and got deeper into running our startup. It's been a difficult year in many respects business-wise but overall I had a lot of fun and most of it didn't feel like work. The company reached profitability which is rare in the startup game and we even got flown out to California to meet with some investors.

Starting a new company is hard and anyone who says anything different is lying or got extremely lucky. But just because it's hard doesn't mean it has to suck. I learned this year that something can be hard and really enjoyable at the same time. Actually, I kind of like when things are hard. It forces me to prove myself.

The only downside and the reason for all that lead in, was that I probably didn't read quite as much as I would have liked to this year. I guess I was so busy "doing" instead of learning, so I wasn't reading as much as I would have liked. In 2017 my goal is to read 20 books.

So, here are the books I read in 2016.

I've listed them below and what I learned from each one:



Think and Grow Rich-Napoleon Hill

I read this book last year and I read it again this year too. I think I've read this book 3 or 4 times. Some people think it's pseudo-science or weirdo stuff but it really does the trick for me. It aligns my focus, motivates me and helps me to figure out what is going on in my brain. I really like the lessons in the book and no matter what anyone says about it, I think I'm probably going to continue to read it many more times over my life. I really can't say more than that. It's just the best book ever on business as far as I'm concerned. If you haven't read it yet, I highly suggest you check it out.


Without Their Permission - Alexis Ohanian

Alexis is a dude (I was surprised by the name), and was the founder of Reddit and Hipmunk. He was also one of the first people in Y Combinator(YC), and like us, he was rejected by YC his first go around. His initial business idea was to create mobile ordering for flip phones, but Paul Graham, the founder of YC told him he should make "the front page of the internet". That's exactly what Alexis did and that's what became Reddit. What I took from this book is that things can change in your life really quickly when you make something people want badly. Sometimes, like in the case of Hipmunk, you can make a website just a little bit easier to use than the others and you can get a smash hit on your hands. Your software can be so simple, as long as people really want the solution for the problem it solves. I'd highly suggest this book to anyone in technology, or anyone thinking about getting into it. I also like the case he makes for learning how to code and whole-heartedly agree. It's not that hard to code. You just have to be persistent.


Be My Guest - Conrad Hilton

I wasn't the biggest fan of Paris Hilton, but I thought I'd give Conrad (Connie) a shot. The book was published in the 1950s and tells the story of how Conrad went from being a nobody to one of the greatest business tycoons of his time. I realized after reading this that I really love old books because there is so much we can learn from the past that can be applied just as effectively today and probably 100 years from now. He succeeded by understanding the importance of the intrinsic value of a business and also the foolishness of human nature. While everyone else was mining gold, people allowed their businesses to deteriorate. These were good, stable businesses with slow but consistent long term growth potential. Even better than that, the hotels could be leveraged to buy more hotels. Conrad knew how to instil a sense of pride in his staff that didn't exist until he came along and everything he touched seemed like it exuded class. I know I'm giving him a really good review, which is probably surprising given his granddaughter sometimes, but I really think he may have been one of the classiest guys of all time. I liked his style... a lot.



How To Win - Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban wasn't an entrepreneur that was really on my radar, but I thought since he accomplished so much in tech (Sold to Yahoo for 5.7 Billion), his book was worth a read. One thing I really respect about Mark is that he always just went for it in his life. In college, he wanted to run a nightclub, so he borrowed $15,000 from a friend and opened one. He didn't think about all the reasons why he couldn't afford it, he just found a way to get it done. He had the Richard Branson "screw it just do it" mentality and that's something I have to continually remind myself not to lose. It's the key to entrepreneurship. Really, it's all that being an entrepreneur is. The rest is just management. Anyways, I felt the Yahoo story was a bit mis-illustrated in the book as I read a lot more about it later and watched a few documentaries on it. I think the truth is, Cuban would have succeeded no matter what, but the Yahoo acquisition allowed him to become one of the richest, most powerful men in the world and that acquisition was certainly luck and timing. Having said that, he's probably one of the best deal makers around or that deal never would have happened, so it's hard to say if it was luck or if it was inevitable. If Mark was reading this, he'd say "who cares", and I have to agree.








Start Something That Matters - Blake Mycoskie

In 2016, my long time sales guru at Airwaves left to get involved with a sunglasses startup he connected with in Thailand. The whole thing felt really Four Hour Work Week to me and although Airwaves is an AMAZING business that I love, I think I was a little jealous of his new adventure, and the fact he got to be the dude selling sunglasses online while living in Thailand. It just seemed like something out of a book, and to my surprise it was! The whole business was started after one of the founders read this book, so I checked it out. Blake Mycoskie doesn't seem like the kind of guy I'd go for a beer with. I could be wrong but I just felt like he wasn't my kind of dude. However he seems like an amazing entrepreneur and it's pretty interesting how he's turned his business into a "charity". I love the idea of making money while you help people and regardless of what the haters say, I'm pretty sure Tom's shoes does that more than most businesses ever will. It got me thinking that no matter what I do, my life will be empty if I don't give back and help others in some significant and meaningful way. The basic idea is that you should find a product to sell, and then find a good cause that goes hand in hand with your product. For instance, Toms donates 1 pair of shoes for every pair they sell and puts shoes on millions of kids feet worldwide. My friend's sunglass company plants 10 trees for every pair of shades they sell. It's a simple formula but I think Blake invented it and if you are doing business anyways, why not find a way to help people?



Start With Why - Simon Sinek

It felt like everyone I know in business had been telling me to read this book so I finally got it. The basic idea is that people don't care about what you do, they care about why you do it. People connect to what you are really about. Apple isn't a computer company, they just happen to make computers. What they are really about is disrupting the status quo and being rebels. They are rebels in design, rebels in how they think and rebels in the products they offer. It was this "why" that enabled them to transcend computers to itunes, ipads to the app store and then to phones and tv. What I really liked about this book was that I know as entrepreneurs (especially when you get a little bit successful), we have a tendency to box ourselves in. It's easy to limit yourself to what you are doing right now. I could say, Airwaves is a DJ company, so that's all we can ever do. That would be focussing on my what. But if my greater why was to empower artists (which it is), suddenly Airwaves can transcend being just a DJ company. That can be one, amazing, awesome part of our company, but we could now also do a limitless number of things to empower and help artists succeed. When you start with why, the world opens up a little bit and I liked that a lot.



Way of The Seal - Mark Divine

Ever since I was a little kid I've been really into GI Joes, army movies, guns, etc. But as an adult I could never go into the army because I hated getting bossed around too much. I thought this book would be a really cool way to see what it was like to be in the Navy Seals. I was surprised when it was more about mental toughness and business (I guess I shouldn't have been), but I was really expecting it to talk about their workouts, the hardest days, secret missions and that sort of thing. The most valuable part of the book for me was learning how Mark mentally prepared himself to win before he set foot in Seal training. Their challenges are so hard you have to be willing to die trying or you'll be weeded out, so he decided that no matter what he would just keep going until his body wouldn't let him anymore. This came in handy for him a few times but it really showed me the power of having a clarity of purpose and focus when it comes to decision making. If you want a thing, you decide you want it, you don't question it and you go out and get it or die on the way. There's nothing simpler than that and yet, nothing harder or mentally challenging to actually pull off. For that reason I really respected Mark, but probably wouldn't recommend this book. 
(*Note, I tried recommending it and my friend didn't like it, so there you go.*)



Behind The Cloud - Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff is the CEO of Salesforce and one of the most successful businessmen of the last decade. His company Salesforce is worth $47 Billion and this book is his life story. Basically Marc was always a pretty smart, ambitious guy and found himself working as Larry Ellison's right hand man in Silicon Valley at an insanely young age. Right there, I realized that Marc is exception and a pretty amazing person. Larry Ellison strikes me as a bit of a hard ass and only wants to work with the smartest people in the world and Marc was his #1 draft pick. After that, Marc was a millionaire and went to "find himself" in Hawaii and India. He decided that someone should build a cloud-based CRM just as Amazon had built a cloud-based store. He definitely had a concrete vision from the start and it seems like it never changed. From day one he had some money (he was personally rich at that point already from Oracle) and was able to hire a team of very smart developers and skilled sales people to launch the company. By being cloud-based and modern, they were able to steal clients from the market leaders and slowly became "someone" in Silicon Valley. I liked the book but felt like I learned more about Marc from youtube videos and a lot of the time it was more like I was ready a commercial than a life story.









As A Man Thinketh - James Allen

I picked this book up because I heard Tony Robbins say it was the book that changed his life. I have a lot of respect for Tony and really like some of his stuff, so I thought I'd check it out. After reading Think and Grow Rich, I think this book is alright. I think if I had read this book first, I'd like it more. It's basically all the same theme in both books. You grow into your perceptions of yourself in life and your habits either become more effective or more ineffective towards getting you what you want. As I've gotten older, I've seen it in people I know and also in myself. Little weaknesses and flaws become bigger with age and I think probably limiting beliefs do the same thing. If you can manage to plant the right seeds in your brain when you are young, I think you can probably do anything you can imagine. It's a good book but Think and Grow Rich is better in my opinion.



How Successful People Think - John Maxwell

I originally got this for someone as a gift but then thought they might take it as an insult if I gave it to them (it wasn't meant to be), so I just kept it for myself. I had read good things and was expecting a Think and Grow Rich style book, but it was totally different. This book is literally about the physical act of thinking. Where are you when you think? Is it light in the room? Is it dark? Do you meditate? Have music on? How do you break problems down and determine what to focus on? What are the most effective methods of physical thinking? That's exactly the type of practical stuff thats in this book. It was a bit boring at times, but I took a few things away from it. The most important thing was that you need to take time and space just to think. It's surprising and crazy that we go through life kind of semi-thinking all the time, but how often do you just sit in a quiet room and do nothing but think for 20 minutes? Probably....never. I was the same, but after reading this, I take time just to think.


The Looptail - Bruce Poon Tip

Bruce Poon Tip founded G Adventure Tours, the tour company I booked with last year when my girlfriend and I went to India and Nepal. It was such an amazing experience that I had to learn more about the company. If you think about what you need to do to run a successful tour company overseas, it's insane. First, you need to mitigate all kinds of health, safety and logistical risks because tourists always find new ways to wind up in trouble overseas. Secondly, you need to build a team of staff whom you never see, that have more face time with your customers than any other business in the world. Finally, you have to provide amazing, life changing experiences because people are paying a lot of money and giving up their vacation time to go on trips with your company. I can personally testify that Bruce and G Adventures do all 3 much better than I could have ever anticipated. His book is all about how he developed the amazing culture at his company. He also runs a company that helps local indigenous communities. If you are looking for an inspiring entrepreneurial success story, you'll love the first 4 or 5 chapters. After that, it's basically a management consulting guide on how to build a world class company culture, which I also loved although it was boring at times. I emailed Bruce Poon Tip after reading it and he was kind enough to message me back a few times, so it seems like he's a pretty good guy as well.


Money Master The Game - Tony Robbins

I listened to the abridged audiobook of this, but it was still 7 hours long so I'm putting it on the list.
Tony Robbins wrote this book with the goal of helping people get back in control of their finances and I think he really put a lot of authentic thought and effort into finding the best content in the world for this book. You can tell when you read it that he really wants you to succeed and has used his best connections to get you there. Essentially what I learned from this book is that you should save money, avoid debt, live within your means while still having new experiences and enjoy life, and invest in index funds. I'm sure there was more in there, but that's really what I got out. I think all 4 are sound principles which would get most people 25% of the way there. With the index funds, maybe even 50%, but I don't think this book has the content to get you to financial freedom. Having said that, I'm going to read the full book because I bought it for my girlfriend as a gift, so you'll see it reappear on the 2017 list probably and maybe I'll have learned a bit more from it after a second read.



Javascript the Good Parts - Douglas Crockford

I got this book because I wanted to be a better Angular.js programmer. While I was reading it Angular 2 came out, so I especially thought it would be good to have a better fundamental understanding of vanilla javascript. My friend is a CTO at a pretty successful startup and he is in love with javascript so I spent a lot of time getting better with the language this year. All in all, I liked this book but I definitely think if you are just starting out with javascript the best place to start is W3 schools. After that, there are some great courses on object-oriented javascript. I think this book is best as a reference guide that you read while you are taking courses online. It was really great though and I'm glad to know I'm only using the good parts of a really powerful language, that can be a really crappy language if you use the bad parts.



Crossing The Chasm - Geoffrey Moore

I hate it when this happens but I can't remember too much about this book other than the fact that as a startup you have to "cross the chasm". Basically every startup needs to go from the early adopters to the mainstream and that is where a lot of startups fizzle out and die. It's really, really hard to cross the chasm. Having said that, I don't even remember how you are supposed to cross the chasm. Maybe I was just excited that we were gaining early adopters that I wasn't ready for the whole idea of chasm crossing yet, or maybe the book was a bit boring for me. One tremendously helpful part was just realizing that people can be psychologically categorized. When building a customer persona, where their personality puts them on the chasm chart can really make a difference, so identifying, finding and listening to early adopters can help your startup win. If however, you talk to the same group of customers, but they have a different psychological profile (say they are late adopters), your product may never get off the ground. The idea of segmenting and identifying the traits of early adopters was helpful. Maybe I'll read this book again.


The Intelligent Investor - Benjamin Graham

Warren Buffett said he read this book 4 times before going to work for Ben Graham himself and it's investment principles have influenced his life and success drastically and more than any other book. I attempted to read this book when I was a lot younger (maybe 21) but it was way over my head and I didn't have the discipline or patience for it. This time around, I got it. I learned a lot about bonds (probably more than I wanted to know), a ton about human psychology, a ton about valuing a business and a little bit about stocks. That's what value investing is all about. Ben believes that the stock market is full of people who are either temporarily way too afraid or way too confident. Warren Buffett says "be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful". I combined reading this book with lots of interviews and I also started learning more about guys like Ray Dalio and Peter Lynch. I also researched some historical stock market performance and I learned that in the short term the market really is a voting machine and in the long term it really is a weighing machine. I also learned that not investing is an investment. The ability to say "no" is probably the most important part of investing. Probably really sadly, I also learned that you shouldn't discuss your investing with others. It influences you which is bad. It's kind of a secret and solitary game and you should never seek counsel outside of yourself and maybe your business partner. That's what Warren Buffett and Ben Graham would say. I was surprised how much this applied to startups. I learned to think like an investor reading this book and my whole perspective on business changed. I could go on but I'd say basically just never day trade, hold your stocks for 10 years or more unless the company fundamentally changes, buy during bear markets at low prices and keep your investing to yourself. From a startup perspective, all businesses are a machine, and all businesses have an intrinsic value, which is a limited, finite value. I just realized how much I love this book. It was awesome.



I am also reading two books I am almost done, but I guess they don't count (damn).

 

Well, 15 books this year. Not a ton but I'm happy with it. Besides it's not a numbers game, is it?
Okay then... I'll get 20 next year. It feels like such an accomplishment when you finish a stack in a year haha.

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear what books you read this past year and get some suggestions.

 


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